Richard Anderson Squires is the Newfoundland prime minister whose name seems to be most readily recalled when the history of Responsible Government is discussed. Yet his tenure of office consisted only of two terms, each of about 3 ½ years, and both of them ending amid controversy and contumely. These periods of office were from November 1919 to July 1923 and from November 1928 to June 1932. In the five years between, Squires did not have a seat in the House of Assembly and remained a shadowy political figure. His principal claim to fame rests upon events that occurred during his first term when he created the first Department of Education, built the Memorial University College which was originally designed as a Normal School, in memory of the achievements of Newfoundland's armed forces in the Great War, and negotiated the agreement for the development of a power and paper industry at the mouth of the Humber at Corner Brook.
Born at Harbour Grace in 1880, he was educated at the Methodist College in St. John's where he won the Jubilee Scholarship in 1898 and graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Laws from Dalhousie University three years later. Elected in 1909 to the House of Assembly as a member of the People's Party of Sir Edward Morris, he was defeated in 1913 but appointed to the Legislative Council (the Newfoundland equivalent to the Canadian Senate) and given the office of Minister of Justice in the Morris cabinet. Later he was Colonial Secretary in the wartime coalition but resigned when Morris went to the House of Lords and was replaced by W.F. (later Sir William) Lloyd. Sensing the changing political wind, he formed the Liberal Reform Party to contest the 1919 election in an alliance with W.F. Coaker, President of the Fishermen's Protective Union. He won the November election with a substantial majority and became Prime Minister at the early age of 39 years.
His educational policy was derived largely from the ideas of Dr. Arthur Barnes who became the first Minister of Education. His effort to procure the new newsprint industry for the West Coast was stimulated by the desperate need of employment at the time. Both policies were to have a significant impact upon the life of the Island. But it was Squires' misfortune to take office on the eve of the great depression that followed the First World War and it was equally unhappy for him that he should have begun his second term of office only a year before the onset of the stock market collapse that triggered the greater depression of the thirties.
The irony of the termination of his first term was that it happened within weeks of his success in the Humber election of 1923 and the tragedy of the final defeat in 1932 - after a remarkable come-back in 1928 - was that it was preceded by the exhaustion of Newfoundland's credit which had a cataclysmic effect upon fiscal capacity of government.
Squires, who was knighted in 1921 and was to be one of the very few Newfoundland prime ministers to be named to the King's Privy Council, was a brilliant man in many ways but highly mercurial in erament. His contributions to education were highly significant and enduring and while it may seem hardly noteworthy today, it was he who raised the government's contribution to education to a million dollars for the first time in our history. He was the political founder of the institution that became the Memorial University College.